After another fine season for the Academy in so many ways, it’s testament to the continuing hard work at Platt Lane that as we reach number 17 in our sequence of successful Graduates, the series that started off last summer as ‘The 21 Who Broke Through’ has expanded to include five more debutants.
Following his best and most productive season in a City shirt, Stephen Ireland now sits close to the 100 appearance mark for the Blues, impressive stuff from the young Irishman in less than three years since making his debut.
It was only a 10 minute cameo that September day against Bolton Wanderers but it was impressive nonetheless. Ireland replaced another Academy Graduate, Joey Barton, and the crowd quickly warmed to him as he showed a few nice touches and played some clever passes.
Now a household name, Ireland has won six full international caps to date, scoring four goals along the way and during the 2007/08 season he made 39 league and cup appearances for City where he scored four times.
Stephen has himself said that he’s liable to pop up with a late goal, but there were none later than his fantastic volleyed winner against Reading in November, indeed three of Ireland’s four strikes were worthy contenders for any ‘Goal of the Month’ competition.
The Reading hit came on the back of another volleyed winner in the previous home game against Sunderland and his edge-of-the-box-curler put the Blues 1-0 up in the final home game of the season against Fulham.
So how did we come to land the talented midfielder? Academy Recruitment Officer, Barry Poynton, picks up the story of Stephen Ireand…
“I saw Stephen playing for Cork Schoolboys as a 12-year-old and he was one of the most elegant players I’ve ever seen. Stephen came from Cobh Ramblers, the same club as Roy Keane, who I know thinks a great deal of him.”
And Barry admitted to having seen the potential in Stephen while in his previous job with Everton, before managing to sign him for City, adding: “He reminded me an awful lot of Joe Cole at that age, who I saw at Everton for many months.
“We tried to get him to play for us in a game, but he was already committed to playing for an unofficial Leeds team, but they played in a Leeds kit.
“Anyway, there were only two other people watching the game, Mr and Mrs Ireland. So we managed to get him to sign before he’d even seen the place!”
And now after 96 games for the Blues one of his early teachers at City, Jim Cassell, knows there’s even more to come from the 21-year-old.
He told mcfc.co.uk: “Stephen, at the moment, is one of the most creative footballers in the Club and because of that - like all creative players - it doesn’t work every game and there’s an inconsistency in there.
“What he needs to learn now is to balance the creativity with the continuity of his game to get that consistency. With another season under his belt, he’ll be stronger and Stephen is very much a confidence player, as all creative players are.
“He knows now that he can play at the highest level against the best and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look forward to a fantastic season from Stephen.”
The 26 Who Broke Through
Number 17: Stephen Ireland
Date of birth: August 22, 1986
City first team debut: v Bolton, City of Manchester Stadium, September 18, 2005
Games played for City: 96
Goals scored for City: 7